Self-development

Your Ultimate Sustainability Dictionary

by Natalie Theodosi — 10 min read

Your Ultimate Sustainability Dictionary

By now conversations around sustainability have infiltrated the mainstream. You would have definitely heard the term in passing or seen the numerous newspaper headlines highlighting the threat of climate change our planet is facing. But who is really paying attention and trying to grasp the concept of sustainability, beyond the flashy headlines and trending conversations on social media?

It's so easy to lose the real meaning of the cause amidst all the noise, contradictory information, and continued temptation of overconsumption. It's even easier to feel overwhelmed or powerless at the scale of the issue. There's a whole new vocabulary to learn; new rules to live by; and way too much research to do in order to understand where the truth really lies.

Yet, at the same time, things can be much simpler than we make them out to be, and anyone can start their sustainability journey by taking away a few key concepts and figures.

You can start by getting to grips with the world’s collective mission of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as laid out by the Paris Agreement. Why does it even matter? Because if this number isn’t maintained, the Earth will start overheating, the Arctic will melt further, and sea levels will rise, causing more natural disasters.

And how do we achieve this, you might ask. By burning less fossil fuels and relying on more renewable energy sources, harming our lands less, cutting down on plastic use and generally producing and consuming less of everything. Much of the weight for these changes lies on government leaders and the big corporations doing the majority of the overproduction, but change can be affected on an individual level, too. Just think that a single person cutting down on their use of plastic can save the planet an average of 220 pounds of plastic waste per year.

It's a long-winded route to recovery, but we all have to start somewhere. The key lies in open conversations, faith in the power of small yet consistent action, and a mindset shift that puts the value in nature, health, and human connection over material possessions.

Finding it hard to cut through the noise and decipher current conversations around the issue? Here is a simplified dictionary of some of the most useful vocabulary and core values of sustainable living, which will empower you to join in the green movement.


sustainability manifesto

A is for Accountability

As sustainability becomes more of a mainstream topic–some would even call it trending–brands across the market are looking to be part of the movement. Some do it by lowering their environmental impact or rethinking their values, while others make empty claims, also known as greenwashing. That's where accountability comes in. Any individual can use the power of their voice to ask questions, flag issues and demand that companies do better. Whether you are asking your local coffee shop to switch from plastic to paper straws or campaigning against animal cruelty, you can make a difference.

B is for Biodegradable

Biodegradable materials are the ones that can be naturally decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms, meaning the process has no ecological harm. It's the antidote to plastics or synthetic textiles, which usually take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing carbon emissions along the way and polluting our oceans with micro-plastics and micro-fibres.

Plastic packaging is one of the biggest offenders, so if you spot the term 'biodegradable' on a product or packaging, consider it a big bonus.

C is for Carbon Footprint

The total carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere as a result of a company's or individual's activities (from manufacturing, air travel, water usage and more) equals their carbon footprint. Reducing carbon footprints globally will be a determining factor in reversing climate change–and you can be an active part of the solution by buying from companies that are committed to offsetting their footprints. You can also understand your own footprint by using a simple online calculator and participate in offsetting by donating to environmental organisations or planting a tree.

At Intelligent Change, we worked with an external expert to create our own carbon calculator and have a specific overview of the emissions of each product. We then report our findings online as a way of holding ourselves accountable and being transparent with our audience.

D is for Deadstock

Also known as dead inventory, deadstock refers to unsold products stores want to get rid of or the items lying around your home without being used. A new generation of sustainable brands are known for taking deadstock product, dismantling it and then giving it new life with fresh designs. This means the deadstock doesn't end up in landfill and the brand has used existing resources instead of burdening the environment by producing something new.

E is for Ethical

The sustainability conversation is equally embroiled in ethics. Our society's fast consumption culture has created a market where factory workers around the world are overworked and underpaid. Understanding a company's stance on human rights is quickly becoming a prerequisite to ensure the products you are buying into are made in safe, ethical conditions. You can do this with a quick google search on a company to see if it received any criticism in the press regarding its labour practices or by checking its website for images and more information on the factories it partners with.

Defining a strong ethical code is key for Intelligent Change and giving part is at the heart of our value system. For years, we have been committed to giving 1% of our profits, 1% of our products and 1% of our time to make a difference to the world around us, locally and internationally. This is the minimum and we often go beyond these requirements: in 2020 we have donated over $75,000 and 1,293 journals to charitable causes.

F is for FSC-certified

A certification by the Forest Stewardship Company means that the paper you are holding has come from a responsibly-managed forest.

Our newest products use Shiro Echo carbon neutral, 100% recycled, biodegradable, and FSC™ certified paper by Favini. No trees were cut down to create virgin paper to make our products.

G is for Gratefulness

This is the beating heart of any sustainable lifestyle, just like it is the very core of Intelligent Change. To embrace this healthier lifestyle, making sure to pause in the moment, acknowledge what you are grateful for, and share your appreciation will become a key ingredient in any success recipeand gratefulness can be found at every step of the journey. We can feel grateful for having easily accessible online information to educate ourselves, for being able to access a vintage store in our neighbourhood and buy pre-loved items, or simply for having the opportunity to enjoy nature and work together to safeguard it.

H is for Holistic

Sustainable living can only truly take place when we employ a holistic approach. This means working on improving every aspect of our lifestyles from consuming less, to eliminating plastic, researching the values and manufacturing processes of the brands we support, and having a positive attitude towards both people and planet.

I is for Individuality

Taking a step back from the incessant Instagram being marketed to you and trying to figure out your individual style is another part of the sustainable equation. Instead of buying into fleeting trends, make mindful purchases that speak to who you are versus who society is telling you to be. That's sustainable living at its core.

J is for Joy

A part of the sustainability journey that is less talked about is the value of joy in nature and human connection. The closer you lean towards this attitude, the easier making sustainable choices and taking care of the planet will be.

K is for Kindness

When thinking of sustainable living, cultivating kindness is as important as eliminating plastic from your life. Take time to appreciate the gifts of nature when expressing your gratitude in your Five Minute Journal. It will put you in a whole different mindset, and wanting to treat the planet with kindness and respect will become your second nature.

L is for Landfill

Landfills are the sites where waste materials (from food to unused clothes and packaging) are dumped or buried. Globally we produce 1.3 billion tons of trash annually, and the projection is that this figure will rise to 2.2 billion tons by 2025 if we don’t work towards decreasing pollution and overall overconsumption.

M is for More is Not More

While understanding the science behind sustainable materials is crucial, the first and easiest step to take simply involves buying less and using what you already own. Extending the lifecycle of your existing possessions is far better than buying new products, even ones made from organic or recycled materials.

N is for Net Zero

You will hear this term thrown around a lot in the next year, as it becomes the number one priority for big corporations around the world. It means achieving carbon neutrality by offsetting a company's or individual's carbon footprint. This is done by donating to organisations that plant trees on your behalf or investing in energy-efficient products that help reduce the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.

At Intelligent Change, the number one priority is the drastic reduction of our carbon emissions, but since producing products with zero emissions is a very challenging task, we offset our carbon footprint by donating to organizations planting trees (we even planted one last year on behalf of our team) and promoting biodiversity.

O is for Organic

The organic tag is an important one to watch out for, and it’s much more than just a fancy label and trendy word. In the world of food, organic means that the product you are consuming contains less pesticides and more nutrients. Choosing organic versus conventional cotton is also top of the agenda when shopping for clothing. This is because conventional cotton makes use of pesticides and is repeatedly grown on the same soil, meaning all nutrients are lost and the land ends up ruined.

P is for Polyester

Polyester is one of the most commonly-used synthetic materials you need to be aware of, as it presents one of the biggest challenges in the fight against climate change and can be found anywhere from water bottles to kitchen utensils and clothing. There's currently a pledge by the United Nations' Charter for Climate Action to switch 17.1 million metric tons of conventional polyester to recycled, so this one is something to look out for when reading garment tags.

Our journals are bound in 100% cloth based natural fabrics like cotton or linen that don’t contain synthetic materials such as polyester and plastic. We also removed the polyester stitching from our journals and books to reduce the amount of plastic commonly used in the books industry.

Q is for Question

Asking questions should be at the core of your sustainability journey. There's no such thing as a bad or inadequate question and, if you struggle to understand the difference between recycled over conventional nylon, or how to start a compost, any sustainability maverick will tell you that unashamedly asking questions is the way to go.

R is for Regenerative Agriculture

This is one of the newest and biggest topics in the world of sustainability, and it’s all about a rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. What this means in simple terms is that once land is used for farming, the manufacturers return to fix the disruption they created, instead of just taking the resources they need and leaving.

This can be done by using the carbon absorbed by plants to restore soil carbon, growing a variety of crops on the same piece of land, and improving the water cycle. Big luxury conglomerates like Kering are finally starting to grasp the concept and investing in employing regenerative methods across the farms they buy virgin materials from.

S is for Second-Hand

Part of becoming more sustainable involves removing ourselves from instant gratification and the short-lived thrill of the new. That's where the growing second-hand economy comes in, offering a more circular way of consuming by way of renting, recycling and consigning. This means that when you have something you'd like to get rid of, you can now find a new home for it instead of dumping it in a recycling bin by using one of the second-hand apps like Vinted, Depop or Vestiaire Collective.

In the reverse situation? If you're looking for a new piece of clothing or furniture, try a local vintage shop or online consignment platform first. If you need a fancy outfit for a special event, you can rent designer clothing–for a tenth of the original price–at a rental platform like Hurr, By Rotation, or Rent the Runway.

T is for Traceability

Another key term used among sustainability professionals, which means being able to trace the different stages of a production chain and ensure that each stage (from farming to material sourcing, to manufacturing and packaging) is being done under ethical conditions and using as many sustainable materials as possible. You can easily check how far a company has gone to trace its supply chains by looking at their corporate responsibility statements online. Some obvious red flags to watch out for include those companies which completely outsource their manufacturing and have no visibility into who produces their products and how.

We are developing our Sustainability page to share all this vital information with you, as transparency and honesty is one of our core values.

U is for Upcycling

The practice of taking old or existing materials to create new products, instead of buying new resources. This attitude of turning "trash to treasure" is the least harmful way of consuming, so always pay attention to fashion brands or furniture designers committed to the art of upcycling.

By creatively reusing existing resources, upcycling also offers a more environmentally-friendly alternative to recycling, which requires to be liquified or crunched back into raw materials before they can be reused.

V is for Vegan

Wild natural life has been torn down for years to make room for grazing cattle and growing crops that feed animals. It has led to extinction of wildlife, loss of biodiversity, and a big spike in carbon emissions. That's why cutting down your meat intake and incorporating vegan food into your lifestyle is crucial to slow market demand for meat downveganism is far more than a trend.

You will also often come across the term vegan leather these days, which refers to a material that looks like leather but isn't made from the skins of animals. However, most mainstream vegan leathers are made of PU materials–meaning they are made of plastic–and are equally harmful to the environment. This has erupted a debate in the sustainability world, as ethical and environmental issues collide here. If you're at a crossroads, try to look for leather products made using skins which are a byproduct of the meat industry or for young, up-and-coming brands using new-age leathers made from pineapples, mushrooms and other natural resources.

The vegan market has been expanding exponentially to include vegan ink which makes use of soy or a vegetable-based glycerin, and vegan candles, offering an alternative to beeswax. You’ll also find a plethora of natural and vegan beauty products which are free from animal ingredients and animal testing, as well as vegan glue, made from synthetic materials versus the fish or animal collagen.

Did you know that for our tear out products we use vegan glue?

W is for Wool

There's still a place for every material if you ask sustainability experts but, when it comes to wool, it's worth reading up on sourcing and making sure the company you are purchasing from uses a wool farm that practices good animal welfare and treats the land well.

X is for Kiss

As sustainability advocate Stella McCartney put it in her own A-Z manifesto, there's a need for light-heartedness and love even when tackling the most serious of environmental issues. So, don't forget to stop, kiss your loved ones and navigate this lifestyle shift together, as a team.

Y is for Youth

The youth should be the ultimate source of motivation in anyone's sustainability journey, as they deserve the chance to experience the best of nature in the coming decades, just like every other generation before them.

Z is for Zero Waste

A zero waste lifestyle refers to having as little trash as possible to send to the landfill. It might seem like a pipe dream to many, but it's very possible to start working towards it by choosing loose over packaged foods where possible, visiting zero-waste food shops, and buying refillable cleaning or beauty products instead of single-use plastics.

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